CT Family Court reform might save some other baby’s life

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It is impossible to make sense of the horrific murder of Aaden Moreno at the hands of his father. The 7-month-old boy was killed July 5 when his father threw him off the Arrigoni Bridge in Middletown, then jumped himself.

What can we learn from the heartbreak in Middletown to prevent another tragedy from occurring? People’s opinions of “what went wrong” run the gamut from unaddressed mental illness to a faulty judicial system to a brazen judge.

I don’t think any one of these alone is true.

I can’t help but see parallels between this tragedy and one that occurred 22 years ago, when another man killed his little girl, prompting the creation of the Children’s Law Center. In the recent case in Middletown, little Aaden’s mother had sought assistance protecting herself and her baby. So did the mother in the case 22 years ago. Neither did Aaden have legal representation, as was the case 22 years ago; and, as then, information regarding his circumstances was not presented to the court by a neutral child’s advocate.

People have high expectations of the power of Family Court and Family Court judges. I’m not writing to defend the system or the actors; nor am I writing to blame them. It is imperative that parties understand that there are limitations to what a court can do. It cannot predict the future; it can only make decisions based on the facts and evidence presented; it cannot always control the acts of an impaired parent. And most importantly, it cannot change the intrinsic nature of people.

I am certain that the sadness and outrage that I feel in reaction to this horrific act is but a fraction of the depth of despair of the mother and family. I wish the system had prevented this tragedy.

Who is to blame? There is too much conflicting information in the media to discern what happened and how it went so terribly wrong. I believe that the judge did what he believed to be the right thing with the facts as presented to him. I know that the court system is woefully understaffed and, statewide, the family court handles huge numbers of cases with skill and compassion.

Parents often find themselves in the family court system with limited ability to tell the full circumstances of their story to the court. Moreover, children’s needs can be missed as there often is no one who can represent their interests to the court.

Improvements can be made. Things can be different.

• If judges were specialists, with in-depth training for the types of cases that come before them, the signs that can be so subtle may have been recognized and understood.

• If legal aid had more funding, there may have been an attorney to help that mother.

• If an advocate for the child were involved, there may have been compelling information presented to the court focusing solely on the child’s well being.

We will never know with certainty what could have been done that would have made a difference. But maybe, if we focus on making needed reforms to the Family Court system, we will be able to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.

Justine Rakich-Kelly is the executive director of The Children’s Law Center of Connecticut.

What do you think?

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